Even in construction, shown here on the 6th May 1932, Troxy was splendid. The 110 foot main girder for the balcony, the largest single structural element in the building, was taken by road with special police escort from Barrow-in-Furness. On the roads of today that would be quite a feat, but in 1932 it was something of a major wonder. The statistics were equally prodigious with two-and-a-half million bricks, 10,000 tons of sand, 24,000 tons of ballast, 1,000 tons of steelwork, 10,000 electric light bulbs and 90,000 yards of wiring going into the construction.
It is said to have employed 8,000 men over it's 12-month construction period and supported over 10,000 jobs in factories all over the country in ironmongery, steelwork, bricks, timber, electrical fittings, glass, carpets, rubber floor coverings, and woven goods.
Excerpt from David Jones 'Troxy, Where East is Best' with additional information from The Era (30th August 1933). Photo copyright Cinema Theatre Association.
Troxy was built on the demolished site of an old brewery - The Commercial Brewery Company Ltd, Stepney. Costing £250,000 (over £18 million quid in today's money!) to build and was designed by George Coles for Hyams & Gale Kinemas, Troxy was lavishly equipped, and had a capacity of 3,500, making us the largest cinema in England.
On 11th September 1933, we showed our first ever film, King Kong. Watching a film here was an incredible experience, as local resident, Ms Danvers, recalls, “It seemed like Hollywood had come to the Commercial Road in all its glory…Outside was a blaze of lights, inside a large foyer with…a large sweeping staircase, chandeliers, ceiling to floor mirrors and thick carpets. In fact, West End luxury at a price we could afford.” (East London Advertiser, 8 August 1980). The first ever customer was presented with a gold watch on Troxy's opening night.
Opening night programme:
Ribbon cut: Stepney schoolkid Bridget Hughes, 14
National Anthem: Band of the Scots Guards
Cartoon: ‘Opening Night’
B Film: ‘The Mind Reader’, Warren Williams and Constance Cummings
Wurlitzer recital: Bobby Pagan
Main Film: ‘King Kong’, Fay Wray.
This year we welcomed comedy double act Flanagan and Allen, as well as films showcasing Bing Crosby, Charles Bickford, Anita Page, Claudette Colbert and Ginger Rogers to name but a few!
Maurice Cheepen was the man who created 'Stepney's Luxurious Troxy', one of the most affectionately remembered cinemas in London. A Jewish immigrant from Nazi Germany, Cheepen made sure to show from the outset that the venue was a cut above the rest. Maurice was a flamboyant manager who staged publicity stunts to promote new films. These included a horse-drawn pumpkin coach to advertise Cinderella, a man dressed as a vampire to walk around the East End handing out leaflets that promoted Dracula. Cheepen was a born showman, and got up to many tricks to publicise his shows - machines issuing fake dollar bills, ‘red indians’ on horseback, and horse drawn pumpkin coaches were all part of his stock-in-trade.
From The London Gazzette, 5 April, 1935:
LIST of ALIENS to whom Certificates of Naturalization have been granted by the Secretary of State, and whose Oaths of Allegiance have been registered in the Home Office during the month of March, 1935. The date shown in each case is the date on which the Oath of Allegiance was taken.
Cheepen, Morris (known as Maurice Cheepen); No Nationality; Cinema Manager;
26, Rowhill Mansions, Clapton, E.5. 6 March, 1935.
Decorated and looking very regal for the King George V Silver Jubilee celebrations.
Just days after Hitler's promise of retaliation for the RAF bombing of Berlin, on the 7th September, London was hit with the first co-ordinated attacks on the city by German bombers. The legendary manager of the Troxy, Maurice Cheepen, led wartime audiences in community singing.
"In the Troxy Cinema, the audience was trapped by the raid. The manager called on them to sing "There'll Always Be An England". As he spoke, a bomb fell nearby. "I'm not so sure of that!" shouted a joker. There was much laughter and the sing-song went on till after midnight." - excerpt from London at War 1939 - 1945 by Philip Ziegler.
Here, ARP (air raid precaution) wardens, use the roof of Troxy to tackle resulting fires in surrounding buildings. Photo copyright Cinema Theatre Association.
In what was known as “The Longest Night” London was subjected to the worst bombing of The Blitz on May 10th-11th 1941 with hundreds of German aircraft peppering the city with incendiary devices and bombs. Nearly 1,500 people died and 11,000 homes were destroyed. The Houses of Parliament, British Museum and many other landmark buildings were hit but although East London suffered badly that night, particularly Stepney, Troxy was not hit.
Denis Norden reveals in his book "Clips from my Life" that he was once acting as relief manager at Troxy, and the organ's lift mechanism failed. The organist had to remain perched up in the air during the film, whilst all available staff searched the cinema for the particular winch handle that would wind down the organ manually.
Norden worked for Gaumont Super Cinemas, and was the Assistant Manager at the Trocardero, Elephant & Castle and then General Manager at the Gaumont, Watford, before he started his TV career.
Performances over the years from people such as Vera Lynn, Earl Cameron, Clarke Gable, Gracie Fields, Petula Clarke and the Andrews sisters. We even had the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, attend a performance of Dick Whittington at the venue on Boxing Day 1947.
Throughout the Fifties, our old neighbour, Robert's Restaurant, advertised our programmes on a pavement hoarding in return for two weekly cinema tickets. This is us in 1950 when we were showing the films D.O.A and Champagne for Caesar, as well as re-runs of the 1948 movie Larceny, and 1939's Too Busy to Work.
In one of Maurice's most extravagant stunts, he arranged for several cages of live vultures in the cinema’s foyer to advertise the film, Where No Vultures Fly. It all went brilliantly, except for when one vulture escaped and flew around the auditorium until someone managed to capture it.
Lita Roza, the first British artist to top the UK solo charts and the woman behind the famous ‘How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” song, played here.
We celebrated our 21st Anniversary with a stellar line up, even back then we stuck to our mantra… “Where east is best”
A regularly changing programme of the biggest movie hits from both Britain and across the pond. Hollywood glamour brought to the East End. 1954 showing The Caine Mutiny starring Humphrey Bogart, and Father Brown starring Alec Guinness.
Cliff Richard and the Drifters graced our stage, playing his big hits "Move it", "High Class Baby" and "Mean Streak", with support from Wee Willie Harris, Peter Elliot, The Bachelors, The Rockin' Rockets and Phyllis Craig. A crackin' line up you might say - and all for less than £3 in today's money.
In November of 1960, we screened our last ever film, “The Siege of Sydney Street”. "I wouldn't be surprised if I have tears in my eyes," confessed our now former manager, Maurice, ahead of the Troxy closing. "After all, the old Troxy has been quite a place in its time..."*
The damage inflicted on the East End of London by the Blitz in World War Two and the clearance of local slums robbed us of much of our original audience and we closed our doors. Our original Wurlitzer organ did not survive intact after we closed as cinema.
*Modernity Britain: A Shake of the Dice, 1959-62, Book 2
Europe’s largest Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ, housed within our sister theatre, the Trocadero cinema in Elephant and Castle, was purchased by The Cinema Organ Society for preservation.
From 1960 to 1963, Troxy remained unused and empty
Surprisingly, in 1963 when the facade was starting to look very unloved, a tenant was found and the London Opera Centre was created in our great hall.
Run by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Troxy was used for rehearsals on an extended stage which was an exact size of the Royal Opera House stage. Look out for the revolving stage the London Opera Centre used for practice in our basements and the stage rooms they transformed into practice areas.
Georg Solti rehearsing the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House at the London Opera Centre.
After forming the National Opera Studio, The London Opera Centre closed in 1978. Troxy continued to be used as storage for the Royal Opera House for the following 14 years — photo from 1972.
We earned Grade II Listed status with English Heritage.
After decades of decay, standing empty and unloved, Top Rank started resplendently converting the building back to life in the form of a bingo hall.
For years, the building languished in decay, primarily serving as storage for the Royal Opera House. When they relinquished the option on their lease after 30 years, Rank took over it over and started resplendently converting the building back to life in the form of a bingo hall. Rank refurbished the interior, removing some of the 1963 auditorium alterations to re-open as Top Rank Bingo, reinstating the huge auditorium.
Photo credit: Martin Tapsell
Top Rank was no more, and the Mecca logo went up on our facia.
Still going strong as a bingo hall, at the grand age of 65 in 1998.
The games came to a close at Troxy, when Mecca ceased operations and the building was put on the market again - only to be snapped up very swiftly by the current owners Ashburn Estates Ltd.
After a short period of refurbishment, we were reborn as a live events space. We have continued to be used for concerts and other events ever since, hosting prestigious awards ceremonies, sporting events, gigs and films.
On the 29th November 2008, we held our first major public gig. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds played to a sold out audience.
It was announced the Trocadero’s magnificent Wurlitzer pipe organ which had been lovingly restored was being moved to Troxy. This year, history came full circle when we screened our first film for more than 50 years, showing Secret Cinema’s Bugsy Malone, complete with live music and custard pie fights.
We hosted the Artist and Manager awards for the first year. We also underwent an 18 month long renovation process to restore the venue as much as possible.
The sold-out signs went up at our lovely place, not for the last time, when 1970s legend Patti Smith played to a packed Troxy in the autumn of 2012. Touring her Banga album, released earlier that year, she channelled her rebel spirit into a memorable live show which shook any remaining dust from the long-closed building. A high point was ‘Because the Night’. But if the night belongs to lovers, as that track claims, East London belonged to Patti that night.
We marked our 80th birthday by showing King Kong. Ticket holders were guided to the screening by huge gorilla feet painted on the pavement. That same year, we hosted the NME Awards for the first time, with the magazine’s editor Mike Williams saying we were one of London’s “oldest, coolest and most iconic venues”. The same year Google chose us as its annual Christmas party venue for 1,500 guests and we also hosted the Kerrang Awards for the first time.
Future Cinema presents Ghostbusters
The same year, we were restored to our former glory as our 18 month long renovation process was completed. The front of house was fitted with a sign meticulously designed to replicate the original facia and the outside was also treated with a substance paint to create the illusion of stone to finish off the vintage look. Internally we fitted a new carpet which was specially designed to complement the internal original grade II listed features.
London Grammar brought their 2014 If You Wait tour to a close at Troxy on the 5th March, one of the biggest concerts on a tour that saw their debut album turn platinum.
In June 2014, six years since its debut in a small bar in Angel, East London's massively popular and most ridiculous gay, drag, queer inclusive FUN party for all, graced Troxy in all in all its colourful glory for a night of pure joy. Since then, with the likes of Little Mix, Roisin Murphy, B*Witched, Will Young, The Vengaboys and Mel C as headliners, the party has found a new home at Troxy, selling out in record times.
After a campaign costing £275,000, a special celebration evening was held to mark the Wurlitzer’s rebirth at Troxy. The same year, The Prince of Wales attended a Business In The Community event here. Our owners Deepak and Mohit Sharma welcomed HRH on his arrival and were commended for their preservation of the building and work done to keep it as a space that can be enjoyed by the public.
Red Bull Studios London brought music duo Disclosure to Troxy to perform their new album Caracal for the first time to a UK audience. We opened our doors to a full capacity crowd of 3,100 Disclosure fans, all of whom won their tickets by Tweeting the hashtag #DisclosureFace to @RedBullUK.
We hosted Robbie William’s BRITs Icon concert, which was one of, if not the biggest production we have ever seen. The same year we also made significant investment into improving the Wi-Fi network in order to keep guests connected. Following a £30k investment, our Wi-Fi network is one of the best complimentary in-house systems available in the UK.
A 'lips sealed' secret six night run of 'The Handmaiden' turned Troxy into 'His Master's House'
Ticket holders at a sold-out Ru Paul’s Drag Race event got the added bonus of a Hollywood A-lister dancing on stage for them. Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, Spiderman, Hacksaw Ridge) was plucked from the audience to lip-sync to Whitney Houston’s ‘I’m Every Woman’, bringing the house down when he threw in a spectacular backflip among some sharp dance moves. People couldn’t get their phones out fast enough.
A touch of TV glamour descended on Limehouse as Sky talent show Sing: Ultimate A Cappella, hosted by Cat Deeley and featuring 30 groups pitted against each other to sing with no backing tracks or instruments, was filmed at Troxy. The Sky team did such a good job turning the venue into a TV studio, we almost didn’t recognise the place ourselves.
Having forged a global reputation as a bold entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson chose Troxy to be the Launchpad for his second book – ‘Finding My Virginity’. Every seat in the house was taken as Sir Richard - who arrived on the back of a moped rather than in a limo of course, the total geezer - was interviewed by TV and radio presenter Lauren Laverne, covering topics such as sheltering from hurricanes, meeting the Obamas and the future of business.
In August 2018 Troxy was reborn as the world’s biggest mobile-only, and tout-proof venue. The team at Troxy joined forces with DICE to sell tickets to its events and ensured that touts were locked out for good. This move to digital technology put the fans first and welcomed in a new chapter for Troxy who are never afraid to embrace change.
In 2019 Troxy cemented its reputation as one of the flagship venues for LGBTQ+ led events. With a superb track record welcoming clients such as Sink The Pink, Ru Paul’s Drag Race and London Gay Men’s Chorus to name a few, Troxy worked hard to create a respectful and welcoming environment for everyone, ensuring that no one is subject to discrimination or harassment of any kind. All staff at the venue are highly trained to create a fully inclusive customer experience, from sensitive security searches to the use of gender neutral pronouns.
Troxy has witnessed a few standing ovations down the years but few as long or loud as the one that greeted a bona fide national treasure being handed a deserved award. He was presented with a lifetime achievement award as part of the Landscape Institute Awards, and while the applause may have been deafening, you could have heard a pin drop as he gave a speech urging the audience to do their bit to help the natural world.
While the doors were closed during the 2020/21 pandemic, a huge investment was put into moving the stage back to where it was situated in the 1930s. The non-authentic rear wall was removed to expose the huge original stage area, behind the proscenium arch. One huge stage area with wings has been created, enabling large scale productions with rapid changeovers for concerts and award ceremonies. The stage has undergone a huge amount of work to expose the original fly tower within the original proscenium arch, not seen since the 1970s, and bring it up to date with cutting edge production.
On arrival, visitors to the venue will immediately see the return of the stunning travertine floor in the foyer thanks to the removal of the 1990s box office and renovation by stonemasons.